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El Escorial, San Lorenzo de El Escorial, Spain

Magnificent residence of Spanish kings and monastery of El Escorial are located at a distance of 45 kilometers from Madrid - at the foot of Mt. Abantos of the Sierra de Guadarrama mountain range, in the town of San Lorenzo de El Escorial.

The construction of El Escorial began in honor of the victory of Philip II over the French Army in August 1557. During the hostilities, Spanish army mistakenly destroyed the monastery of St. Lorenzo de El Escorial. After the end of the war, Philip II decided to build a new monastery in honor of this saint (this is why the architectural ensemble got the name Escorial), and a palace for himself near the monastery. King loved solitude and was a devout man, and therefore the architectural complex includes both monastery and a royal palace. The process of finding an appropriate location for El Escorial lasted quite long, because king wanted a place in Madrid’s vicinity that would not be very hot or very cold. Firstly the construction was led by the student of Michelangelo - Juan Bautista de Toledo. From 1567, after Toledo’s death, Juan de Herrera replaced him. Construction started in 1563, lasted 21 years and was completed in 1584.

Escorial was supposed to become a symbol of the victory of Philip II. This is why during the construction plans of the Escorial’s creators became more and more ambitious. It was even decided to create a royal pantheon in Escorial. Over the past four and a half centuries almost all Spanish kings were buried here.

Of particular interest is the library of El Escorial. Thanks to its beauty and rich collection of Arabic manuscripts this library is considered one of the bests in the world. Copies of books in the library are stored with their spines inside the shelf in order to save their old bindings.

The architectural complex of El Escorial has a shape of a wide rectangle (208m x 162m). It was built from light sandstone. The main characteristics of El Escorial are large symmetrical forms and austerity of external facades. The castle is decorated with corner towers. El Escorial has numerous secret passages, 16 courtyards, 15 galleries, 13 chapels, 300 cells for monks and numerous other facilities. In the southern and eastern sides of the complex luxurious French style gardens are located.

Internal decorations of the castle are also modest, but this modesty is compensated by the existence of numerous masterpieces of European culture in every corner of the El Escorial. There is no coincidence that Escorial hosts one of the richest art galleries in Europe. Here one can find works of Titian, Bosch, Van Dyck and many other prominent artists. There are also a rich collection of rugs created by sketches of Goya and Rubens.

The main cathedral of the monastery is surprising with the luxury of its inner decorations. The cathedral has 43 altars; each of them is a masterpiece, created by some famous master. Columns of the Cathedral are made of marble and jasper.

The ceilings of the palace, the cathedral and the library are decorated with sumptuous paintings. Particularly striking is the painted ceiling of the library, created by Pellegrino Tibaldi. His creation symbolizes the seven sciences: arithmetic, astronomy, geometry, grammar, dialectics, music and rhetoric, while theology and philosophy are depicted on the walls.

The architecture of El Escorial has significantly influenced the architectural styles of numerous European castles later. It has by right received “the 8th wonder of the world” title. Today Escorial also hosts a museum of its own history.

In November 1984, UNESCO declared the “Monastery and Site of the Escurial” a World Heritage Site.

By Anna Pambukhchyan,


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